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Online customer service primer.

* PrimeCustomerCare, online, 2001, 18 hrs., PrimeLearning.com (860-526-3487, www.PrimeLearning.com), $450 per user per year; $8,100 per 100 users per year. Other resources: mentoring, discussion boards, chats.

PrimeLearning.com offers a comprehensive rundown of customer service best practice in PrimeCustomerCare. The content itself is strong, but the package needs to be implemented carefully if its to deliver better on-the-job performance.

PrimeCustomerCare comprises 11 Internet-based courses that address a range of customer service issues. The first six courses help students grasp the business context of customer care by defining customer service, stressing its personal and business benefits, and introducing key concepts.

The remaining five courses introduce best practices related to key customer service skills: face-to-face communication, telephone communication, Internet communication, complaints, and difficult customers. PrimeCustomerCare is written by consultant, author, and customer service expert Terry Gillen and co-developed with Gower Publishing Ltd., a publisher of business and management best practices.

Each course is broken into two or three units that follow a logical and predictable sequence: a short audio introduction, a statement of learning objectives, key content, and a short audio recap. Each unit is composed of "slides" containing concise text, graphics, and audio clips. Learners absorb the content by reading about best practice, reading or listening to positive and negative vignettes, and answering multiple-choice or drag-and-drop questions.

Additional customer service resources (a glossary, job aids, and a behavioral assessment) are provided but are not integrated into the course content. Upon completing each course, learners are invited to take a short quiz.

The Prime E-learning System supports and augments the courses. Learners are encouraged to complete a 33-question pre-assessment to generate a recommended learning path. In addition to following the learning path, they may also access learning events, live chats, and discussion forums related to customer service. If learners require individual support, they can send inquiries to a personal mentor by email and will receive a response within 24 hours. After completing the learning path, learners take a mastery test to assess their progress.

PrimeCustomerCare includes a wealth of knowledge. Giller captures a nice sample of the current best practice in customer service, concisely explaining important and timely topics such as customer relationship management, value chain management, and moments of truth. He also covers all the important elements of customer service that are timeless: listening, communication, and generating alternative solutions for example. The content in courses overlaps, but the key messages are always consistent.

Although the content is current and relevant, it is not presented in a manner that will help learners turn newly acquired knowledge into better on-the-job performance. For example, Engage Difficult Customers (the strongest course in PrimeCustomerCare) includes the following learning objective: "Identify the five guidelines for handling unreasonable customers." By commenting on positive and negative vignettes and quizzing, the learner on appropriate practice, the course does an excellent job of communicating a five-point model for handling unreasonable customers (listen, check reasons, explain restrictions, offer alternative, repeat response).

But there are no learning activities that help learners apply the model. Although Engage Difficult Customers is one of two courses that include an interactive case study, the exercise is cursory (with only three decision points) and too simple to support on-the-job application. Successful navigation of the scenario requires only a basic understanding of the five-step model. A better outcome would result if learners were required to perform rigorous analysis of a complex customer service problem.

Learners of any technical ability will find PrimeCustomerCare easy to use and the customer service content easy to digest. Navigation is simple and consistent across courses. The writing is concise, clear, and without unnecessary jargon. The service vignettes are accessible because they capture everyday examples of good and poor service. The delivery, however, is not highly interactive. Aside from the three or four short questions in each unit, learners are simply reading text and listening to audio.

Currently, learners will also not derive great value from the live chats, discussion forums, and learning events. I checked the PrimeCustomerCare chat room three separate times on three separate days. The chat room technology has potential: it loads quickly and is intuitive to use. But the rooms were empty on each of my visits. Similarly, the discussion forums were underpopulated, with the most recent (of 19) posts being made one year earlier than my test. The only scheduled learning event was over one year out of date.

Recommendation

PrimeCustomerCare will help service representatives, sales representatives, and employees indirectly involved in service delivery identify the benefits of customer-centricity and good and bad customer service behavior. In order to derive maximal value from this offering, use it as a primer in conjunction with activities that help learners apply their knowledge on the job, i.e., mentoring, custom built application exercises, or action learning. Those purchasing PrimeCustomerCare should also create an implementation plan that directs the intended audience to the most-relevant parts of this broad offering and considers innovative ways to motivate use of the PrimeCustomerCare chat rooms and discussion forums.
PrimeCustomerCare product rating

Holds user interest Average
Production quality Average
Ease of navigation Very good
Interactivity Below Average
Value of content Very good
Instructional value Average
Value for the money Good
Overall rating Average


Dan Michaluk (dan.michaluk@cloudbreakcompany.com) is a former trainer who now practices law in Toronto, Canada.
COPYRIGHT 2004 TMR Publications
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2004, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Online
Author:Michaluk, Dan
Publication:Training Media Review
Article Type:Product/Service Evaluation
Date:May 1, 2004
Words:884
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